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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Goldberg Variations
Konstanze Eickhorst, Piano
Rec: November 1993.
ANTES EDITION BM-CD 31.9048 [78.22]

Woe indeed to the pianist who records the Goldberg Variations. A rite of passage for most pianists and harpsichordists, it is a challenge to stand out among a discography of dozens of recordings. It is even more difficult to record this work with the ever-present spectre of Glen Gould's groundbreaking recordings. Bach's most famous keyboard work, comprising an aria, 30 variations, and a repeat of the aria, is fraught with difficulties and is one of the most challenging works to play with both emotion and the necessary virtuosity.

Konstanze Eickhorst sets out, in this recording, to do what so many other pianists have done, and, unfortunately ends up doing just that. This recording is just another Goldberg among the many; nothing really sets it apart from other recordings of the work. There is nothing wrong with it, but playing the Goldberg Variations well is far more than just playing the notes and being good enough to do so. While it starts out well enough, with an adequate performance of the aria, Eickhorst gets bogged down in the 4th variation, the first of the work's canons. This is a difficult variation to play, because of the need to balance the sound between the two hands. Eickhorst sounds a bit lost, as though she were trying to decide which hand to favour.

Some of the more lively variations, such as the 6th, 11th, and 15th work well. Eickhorst has a driving energy that fits these variations adroitly. But the long 25th variation, which calls for much more emotion than is present here, shows the limitations.

With all the competition in this field, it is a wonder that so many pianists record the Goldberg Variations. How can one hope to stand out against such excellent recordings as Glen Gould's two landmark Goldbergs, from 1959 and 1981? Or Andràs Schiff's highly personal, and sometimes idiosyncratic recording? Or even Murray Perahia's recent masterpiece, that sets the bar very high for any future piano recordings of this work? This is a difficult task, indeed, and Eickhorst does not succeed.

An average recording of the Goldberg Variations, with little that makes it stand out from any of the dozens of other piano recordings of this work.

Kirk McElhearn

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